Licensed Acupuncturist

The word “balance” gets used a lot in today’s culture, but it has been an essential concept in Eastern healing practices for centuries. When people hear the word “balance,” they may think of phrases associated with health such as work-life balance, a balanced diet, or balancing postures in yoga class. These phrases related to healthy living are not just colloquial; they can be positive reminders to take care of oneself, and they reflect the modern trend of pursuing alternative therapies to balance the stressors of everyday living.

A study published by the National Institute for Health (NIH) revealed that Americans spend more than $30 billion out-of-pocket annually on complementary health practices such as acupuncture, yoga, and chiropractic care. Acupuncture is an Eastern healing modality that is experiencing a surge in popularity as Americans continue seeking out alternative complements to Western medicine.

Acupuncturists help patients manage pain or to rebalance their “qi” or energy flow by inserting very thin needles to stimulate healing. Using ancient Chinese medicinal concepts of energy meridians, acupuncturists are trained to know precisely where to insert needles at specific points of the human body in order to heal specific ailments. The application of electrical stimulation, movement, pressure, or heat may also be used.

Acupuncturists are physicians with certifications in Oriental medicine or licensed practitioners of Oriental medicine. In the United States, 45 states and the District of Columbia require acupuncturists to pass a licensure examination or hold certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

Acupuncturist Specializations & Degree Types

To become an acupuncturist in the United States, the first step is to earn a degree from an educational institution approved by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). Most acupuncture programs require either two years of college-level courses or a bachelor’s degree as prerequisites for admission. Depending on the program, students may or may not need an educational background in science to be considered for admission.

Most acupuncturists have master’s or doctoral degrees in acupuncture, but some practice with medical degrees as physicians. Examples of acupuncture degree titles are:

  • Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (MAOM)
  • Master of Traditional Oriental Medicine (MTOM)
  • Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM)

Those who earn state-level NCCAOM certification or a passing score on the NCCAOM certification exams are eligible to earn the following board-certified titles in Eastern medicine:

  • Diplomate of Acupuncture
  • Diplomate of Chinese Herbology
  • Diplomate of Asian Bodywork Therapy
  • Diplomate of Oriental Medicine

Admissions Requirements for Acupuncturist Programs

Each acupuncture educational institution has its own unique requirements for admission. Here is a list of typical tasks and types of documentation required of prospective applicants to acupuncture programs:

  • Application fee
  • Campus tour
  • Completed application
  • Interview with an admissions specialist
  • Official bachelor’s degree transcript (for master’s degree programs) from a regionally or nationally accredited college or university
  • Physical health exam form
  • Proof of current vaccinations (e.g., hepatitis B, MMR, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria, etc.)
  • For non-native speakers of English: proof of academic English language competency through official scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • For coursework earned outside of the United States: official transcripts must be evaluated and translated into English

Acupuncturist Program Accreditation

In order to validate the quality of an educational program, accreditation is highly sought after by educational institutions. Accreditation is a metric of excellence that proves to employers and patients that students, faculty, and staff earning and conferring degrees from a specific program are held to high standards of academic quality. Accreditation can be programmatic, regional, or national. Recognized accrediting agencies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Educational programs in acupuncture are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). ACAOM has set forth a set of comprehensive standards and criteria for accreditation that schools must meet in order to earn distinguished accreditation for their master’s or doctoral programs in acupuncture and Eastern medicine.

On-Campus Acupuncturist Degree Programs

Acupuncture and Massage College

The Acupuncture and Massage College in Miami, Florida offers a bachelor of arts in health sciences and a master of Oriental medicine degree. The school aims to give students an introduction to acupuncture and Oriental medicine and experience working in clinical settings as acupuncturists. Coursework in this program prepares students to sit for the NCCAOM exam.

In addition to academic programs, the college offers a community clinic that shares the holistic benefits of Eastern medicine and provides a clinical environment to prepare acupuncture students through supervised clinical treatment. The master’s program can be completed in three years and is ideal for students desiring to become licensed acupuncture physicians.

  • Location: Miami, FL
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) and Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $278.15 per credit

American Academy of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine

The American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) in Roseville, Minnesota is committed to a balanced approach to traditional and contemporary medicine. Blending the theoretical foundations and clinical applications of traditional Chinese medicine, the program features courses in acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary therapy, movement practices such as T’ai Chi and Qigong, and scientific concepts in biomedicine.

Offering two master’s degree programs, one doctoral program, and a certificate program in Tui Na massage therapy, the AAAOM is also committed to offering high-quality professional development seminars for acupuncture professionals. The 41-credit, 660-hour certificate program in Tui Na massage therapy serves as an optional add-on for acupuncturists or a stand-alone training program for massage therapists. The curriculum standards for this program allow students to take the Asian bodywork therapy diplomate exam through NCCAOM.

  • Location: Roseville, MN
  • Duration: Three to eight years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $325 per credit

New England School of Acupuncture at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

The New England School of Acupuncture is within the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. They have been leaders in acupuncture and eastern medicine for over four decades. Because this program is part of MCPHS, acupuncture students are able to collaborate with students in other disciplines such as pharmacy, optometry, dental hygiene, and physical therapy, to name a few. This helps prepare graduates for collaborative work across specialties to provide holistic care to patients.

Students in this program can complete one of two masters, two doctorates, or a certificate. There are concentrations in Chinese acupuncture, Japanese, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and orthopedic acupuncture. The master’s program is either in just acupuncture or in acupuncture and oriental medicine. The doctorates are in just acupuncture or in acupuncture and integrative health. All programs include classroom coursework and hands-on clinical experiences to gain valuable experience treating patients.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: 32 months
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $710 per credit

Oregon College of Oriental Medicine

The goal of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine is to change healthcare by graduating highly qualified and compassionate practitioners. Graduates of this program are known for having strong research skills as well as providing outstanding care to their patients. The OCOM began educating students in Oregon in 1983. Since then, more than 1,500 students have graduated from this program. Alumni practice in all 50 states.

There are four degree options for students attending OCOM. They include a master of acupuncture (MAc), a master of acupuncture and Chinese medicine (MACM), a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine (DACM), and a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine (DAOM). There are also degree completion programs for students who have started their studies elsewhere. Graduates of all of the programs are eligible to sit for examination through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Duration: Two years and ten months to four years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $5,818 per quarter

Emperor’s College

Located in beautiful Santa Monica, California, Emperor’s College offers acupuncture students a high-quality program focused on developing leaders, teachers, and healers who can help shape the future of Oriental medicine. Graduates of this program are well prepared to pass state and national certification and licensing exams. In fact, in 2017, 100 percent of graduates passed the California Acupuncture Licensing Examination (CALE).

Most students who attend Emperor’s college complete the master of traditional oriental medicine (MTOM) program. This four-year program covers acupuncture, Oriental medicine, herbal medicine, and western medicine to provide students with a comprehensive education. In addition to didactic coursework, students engage in clinical training where they work directly with patients. This clinical training begins the very first semester, although the bulk of it is completed during years three and four. This school houses the renowned Acupuncture Clinic, where students provide over 15,000 treatments per year.

  • Location: Santa Monica, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $72,203 for the entire master’s program

Online or Hybrid Acupuncturist Degree Programs

Although there are no fully online degree programs for master’s or doctoral degree programs in acupuncture, there are educational programs that offer hybrid formats through a blend of on-campus and online coursework. Read on to learn more about hybrid programs in acupuncture.

American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine

The American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in Houston, Texas offers four unique programs: a doctorate of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, a master’s degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, a dual degree master’s, a doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, and a graduate certificate in Chinese herbology.

Some courses are offered online and many didactic classes in the dual degree program are offered on nights and weekends. Students applying to the master’s programs must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited educational institution and completed basic science coursework in biology and chemistry.

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SAOCSCC)
  • Tuition: $432 per credit

Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts

The Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts offers four degree programs in acupuncture: a dual degree master’s and doctoral program in acupuncture, Chinese, and Oriental medicine; a master’s of acupuncture and Oriental medicine; a doctoral degree of acupuncture and Chinese medicine; and a certificate in Chinese herbal medicine.

Some of the courses in the dual degree program are offered in a hybrid format, meaning that on-campus classroom instruction is combined with online interactive activities and resources to apply the concepts learned in face-to-face classes. Students in these courses are expected to have basic internet literacy skills including basic file management and how to use email, word processing, and learning management systems. Hybrid courses may meet synchronously at predetermined times of the week, or work may be requested to be submitted asynchronously by a specific deadline.

  • Location: Asheville, NC
  • Duration: 200 hours to six years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $19,250 per year

Maryland University of Integrative Health

The Maryland University of Integrative Health offers a masters’, PhDs, and a graduate certificate in acupuncture. MUIH was the first accredited acupuncture school in the US and has a track record for producing high-quality graduates who are knowledgeable and compassionate practitioners. All of the programs at MUIH are offered in a flexible full-time format. Students attend in-person classes two days a week and then complete additional studies online or in intensive courses.

With at least 27 percent of students taking at least one class online, MUIH has developed distance learning classes that provide students with the same quality of education that they would receive in the classroom. However, not all online courses are available in all states, and students should check the state authorization status to ensure the courses they take meet the requirements for their state.

  • Location: Laurel, MD
  • Duration: Three to 4.5 years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $615 per credit

Healthcare Medicine Institute

Licensed acupuncturists who need to complete continuing education units (CEUs) can do so through the online offerings at the Healthcare Medicine Institute. Courses vary in topics can be as few as just one hour of continuing education and up to 20.

Since some states require practitioners to complete continuing education in certain categories, such as safety of ethics courses as labeled as to what kind of CEUs the course includes. Practitioners are able to learn about a variety of topics, including elbow pain, headaches, menstruation, low back pain, allergies, insomnia, and more. While these courses may be required to maintain licensing, they are also an excellent way to expand knowledge and treatment methodologies.

  • Location: Capitola, CA
  • Duration: One to 20 hours
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
  • Tuition: Varies based on the course ($35 to $270 or more)

California Institute of Integral Studies

The California Institute of Integral Studies offers a number of online programs, including an acupuncture and Chinese medicine: doctor completion program (DACMCP). This program can be completed in just two semesters and consists primarily of doctoral-level research. Students in this program will conduct original research and writing with the intent of pursuing publication or a professional presentation.

To be eligible for the completion program, candidates must have already completed an ACAOM accredited master’s program. Other admission requirements include two letters of recommendation, a completed application, official transcripts, a statement of purpose, and a completed application. International applicants must provide proof of English proficiency.

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Duration: Three to 4.5 years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $1,393 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become an Acupuncturist?

Typically, master’s and doctoral degree programs in acupuncture take three to five years to complete. Additional time after graduation from an acupuncturist program may be needed in order to finish clinical hours and to prepare for and take the acupuncturist licensing exams determined by the student’s state of residence or intended place of practice.

How To Become an Acupuncturist – Step-by-Step Guide

Here is one possible pathway to becoming an acupuncturist.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Science-Related Field (Four Years)

Acupuncture programs encourage prospective applicants to take courses or major in a science-related field such as biology or chemistry.

Step Two: Earn a Master’s or Doctoral Degree from an ACAOM-accredited Program (Two to Six Years)

A complete list of master’s and doctoral degree programs accredited by ACAOM can be found in the ACAOM online directory of accredited/pre-accredited programs and institutions.

Step Three: Complete Practicum Hours (Timeline Varies)

The majority of acupuncture programs have a minimum number of clinical hours required for program completion, which typically include practices such as diagnosis and treatment, clinical training, communication, and ethics.

Step Four: Consider a Study Abroad Program (Optional, Timeline varies)

To give students an in-depth immersive understanding of Chinese medicine, some institutions offer study abroad options as part of their acupuncture programs. Students can learn from traditional Chinese medicine professionals in China or another Asian country and may be able to apply their study abroad experience towards their required clinical hours.

Step Five: Pass Licensing Exams (Timeline Varies)

Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so it is imperative to research the local requirements for acupuncture licensure. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) provides licensure exams for 45 states and outlines a step-by-step examination process to apply for licensure.

What Do Acupuncturists Do?

Acupuncturists are primarily responsible for using ancient Oriental medicine techniques to treat pain and help people feel better. An expansive list of the professional responsibilities of an acupuncturist includes:

  • Listening to patients describe their symptoms
  • Collecting medical information from patients
  • Treating patients using a combination of fine needles inserted along specific energy meridians
  • Applying electricity, heat, and pressure to the areas of discomfort
  • Following policies and procedures related to healthcare practices
  • Recording patient medical history
  • Prescribing further treatments in Western or Eastern medicine
  • Evaluating patient outcomes
  • Educating patients on routine home-based care

Depending on how staffed a work environment is, acupuncturists working in clinics or private practices may need the following business and communication skills to effectively interact with patients be an effective healthcare provider:

  • Business operations management (e.g., scheduling, regulations, supply ordering, marketing)
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

Acupuncturists Certifications & Licensure

National board examinations for acupuncturists are given by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), and 45 states and the District of Columbia require this exam for licensure. Even if a state does not require the NCCAOM exam, acupuncturists are still eligible to take it if they meet certain requirements, which are as follows:

  1. Submit an online application (valid for four years)
  2. Submit the final graduation transcript
  3. Submit a clean needle technique certificate
  4. Receive authorization to test letter (ATTL)
  5. Take all required board examinations

How Much Do Acupuncturists Make?

Master’s and doctoral degree-holders in acupuncture and Oriental medicine make up the majority of licensed acupuncturists. National salary data is influenced by several factors, including education, certification and licensure, professional experience, and location.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020), the 36,070 acupuncturists and healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners made an average annual salary of $97,270. They had these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $ 43,200
  • 25th percentile: $ 60,680
  • 50th percentile (median): $ 82,420
  • 75th percentile: $ 126,070
  • 90th percentile: $ 160,990

Acupuncturist Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as an acupuncturist.

Become a Doula

Doulas primarily support mothers during labor and birth, although some may provide pre or post-natal care as well. Doulas are not medical providers and cannot provide any medical care. They support mothers by advocating for them, providing massage or other physical support, and being with them through the entire birth.

  • Typical Education: Certification
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: DONA International

Become a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT)

Licensed massage therapists use their hands to manipulate soft tissue and muscles on clients. Treatments can be relaxing, for self-care, to promote circulation, to aid healing from an injury. While many LMTs are self-employed, some work in spas, at resorts, or for sports teams.

  • Typical Education: Certificate in massage therapy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB)

Become a Chiropractor

Patients suffering from musculoskeletal problems often see chiropractors to help them regain motion, relieve pain, and attain alignment. Chiropractors use a variety of hands-on techniques to manipulate and adjust bones, nerves, tendons, and muscles in order to alleviate a patient’s symptoms. They can also use ultrasound and massage therapy to help the healing process.

  • Typical Education: Doctor of chiropractic (DC)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board of Chiropractic Examiners
Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond


Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).

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